Here's your sneak peek of RULE!!!
I could not believe I was standing in the living room at almost five o’clock in the morning, having a conversation about paying someone to dispose of bodies.
This could not be my life. It couldn’t.
Of course, being slightly warped and twisted, my thoughts had shifted elsewhere momentarily. Namely on the devastatingly handsome man who had saved me from captivity and was now the one planning the route those dead bodies would take.
But Jesus Christ, this man was so fucking hot, it was difficult to remember he was a criminal. I wasn’t merely talking about the dark hair and eyes, the beard covering his jaw. Not about his stature—at least a few inches over six feet, deliciously muscled—or his domineering air. No, it was the combination of it all. Rule was so darkly handsome that the legality of it was highly suspect. Seriously. Someone should check into that because no one was that physically perfect. I would know. I’d been around some of the most perfect people in the world, all enhanced by skilled hands. Not even the best plastic surgeons in Hollywood could make a face as spectacular as this man’s.
Yes, fine. That was me waxing poetic about a man who got rid of dead bodies for a living. Whatever. He’d saved me at one point, so there had to be some good in him. Maybe. Okay, probably not. More than likely, he was earning his one-million-a-pop fee, and pulling me out of a hole in the ground was all in a day’s work.
And we certainly weren’t going to delve too deeply into why I was regarding him in such a manner when there were dead bodies in the house. That was for therapy.
I forced myself to look at my mother while I waited for her to tell him how she was going to come up with the money. It was evident from her expression that she didn’t have three million lying around. But who did?
“What if we go to the bank first thing,” I suggested when they continued to stare at each other.
My mother’s eyes snapped to my face. It was then I realized she’d covered the marks on her face, fixed her mascara, and styled her hair into some purposely disheveled knot on her head. And at some point, she’d put on a clean nightgown, a matching robe, and a fucking pearl necklace.
Yeah, therapy was going to be a requirement after all this.
“It’s not that simple,” Monica said softly.
“Sure it is.”
She shook her head slowly, and tears formed on her lashes. I prepared myself for some sort of sob story. She was really good at that. There was a reason she was an A-list actress.
“I don’t have it, Laiky. I don’t. I wish I did.”
I cringed at the nickname. She might as well announce that she was gearing up to manipulate me because that was how it always began.
“Meaning what?” I prompted. “You don’t have three million tucked in a sock drawer? Or you don’t have the money at all?”
More tears formed, but they hadn’t spilled over yet. She was holding them back, timing them perfectly.
“We’re done here, Rhyan,” Rule told the woman wearing blood-covered latex gloves.
“Gotcha, boss.” She turned and strolled out as though being woken up in the middle of the night for a never mind wasn’t a big deal.
And just like that, the Monica Quinn Waterworks began, tears streaming down her face as she stared at me helplessly. Soon, the sobs came, and my mother crumpled onto the settee, curling into a ball as she always did when things got too difficult for her to deal with.
I refused to console her. I refused to even feel sorry for her. This was a mess she’d gotten herself into all on her own. If she would only go to the police, she could get herself out of it with a simple explanation.
Oh, hell, who was I kidding? I knew the justice system didn’t work like that. It would be national news if Monica Quinn were accused of a double murder, and some glory-driven detective would latch onto this as a highlight of their career. I could hear the reports now, “Monica Quinn kills two in a jealous rage. More at six.” Unlike OJ, who got away with murder, Monica would probably go down for something she didn’t do.
If she didn’t do it.
While I loved my mother, I didn’t know exactly what she was capable of, and I wouldn’t deny that the scene upstairs looked a little too clean for me. Too simple, even. In my mind, the woman on the bed overdosed, and the husband flew into a crazed rage when he realized she was dead before going on the attack. Monica grabbed the nearest object to protect herself with. Just happened to be a five-inch Wusthof cheese knife with a curved blade and forked tip—translated to: the perfect murder weapon.
Maybe it really was that simple, but there was no doubt in my mind someone could pick it apart and find a dozen other scenarios that would suit the gruesome scene.
I glanced at Rule and noticed he was watching me. It wasn’t the first time. His gaze had lingered on me more than once since he arrived. Like those other times, I couldn’t make out what he was thinking, but that warped and twisted part of me hoped it consisted of the two of us getting naked and dirty together.
“I suggest you call the cops soon,” he said, nodding before he turned on his heel and headed for the door.
“No. Wait!” I rushed to catch him before he slipped out into the night, and I never saw him again.
He stopped and peered at me, his hand on the doorknob. Yes, it was wrong of me to be thinking that he had really, really nice hands. The kind that could probably play a woman’s body like a finely tuned instrument.
“Take me,” I blurted before I could think better of it.
He released the doorknob and turned to face me fully. “Excuse me.”
“Take me. Make it look like a kidnapping.” I glanced back at the parlor where my mother was weeping. “She has kidnap and ransom insurance on me. They’ll pay three million easy.”
Rule’s dark eyebrows narrowed. “You know that’s not how it works.”
“Yes, it is. She told me.”
Rule peered past me at the room my mother was in. “They don’t pay the ransom. They pay it back.”
No, he was wrong. My mother specifically told me the insurance company had been putting together the ransom when she found Rule, who said he could get me back faster and for less than what the kidnappers were asking for. Since she was desperate to get me home, Monica chose him.
“Tell me you know this, Laikyn,” Rule said softly, his dark eyes hard.
I figured now wasn’t the time to argue because he was practically out the door, and I did not look forward to spending the rest of the night explaining to the police that I had nothing to do with the horror show upstairs. Not that they would believe me. That glory-seeking detective would likely toss me into his fictional story, claiming mother and daughter dreamed up the perfect murder only for it to go awry.
Rule glanced toward the stairs. I followed his gaze and saw the woman he referred to as Rhyan standing at the top, staring down at him. She had a leather bag in her hand and a questioning expression.
“I’ll remind you I’ve got two redheads waiting in my bed,” she told Rule. “Shall I go home? Or do you want me to finish up?”
I met his stare once more, trying to read his thoughts. The man was too guarded, too mysterious. He could’ve been thinking about petting puppies or cutting eyeballs out of doll heads. It was impossible to tell.
“Tell one of those redheads to scope their house, then finish up,” he finally said, his eyes never leaving me.
“Calling now,” Rhyan shouted back before disappearing again.
“So you’ll do it?” I asked, lowering my voice so my mother didn’t hear. “Fake my kidnapping?”
Rule took a step closer, then another, until I swore I could feel the heat of his body. I fought the urge to move back because I was the one who’d instigated this with my request. It really was simple. He could stash me away somewhere and have someone demand a fake ransom. Once the insurance company paid the money, he could have it, and I could go back to living in a world where my mother called fixers when her sexcapades went awry.
That was something I would tuck away in the mental box marked CRAZY SHIT so I could pull it out and deal with later.
I gasped when Rule put a finger under my chin and tilted my head back. I held his stare, noticing for the first time a glitter of gold in his dark eyes. Like stardust sprinkled in coffee. His lips … those perfectly shaped lips were close enough it would only take one misstep for them to be on mine, for him to rock my world with a kiss.
He remained motionless for a moment, holding my stare. He was so close I could smell the faintest hint of … I don’t know. It was familiar. While I waited for him to say something—or yes, kiss me—I focused on the smell until I placed it. It only took a few seconds before I realized it was Yves Saint Laurent Libre perfume. He wasn’t wearing it, but it was on him.
Was that where he came from? Some woman in his bed?
Was he married? He wasn’t wearing a ring, but that didn’t mean anything.
Was I over here fantasizing about a married man?
“K and R insurance doesn’t work like that,” he said smoothly. Too smoothly. “Your mother knows this because it backfired on her once already.”
I frowned, trying to decipher his meaning and get the scent of his girlfriend’s perfume out of my nostrils.
His eyes bounced over my face as though he was waiting for something to click for me. It didn’t. That didn’t make sense.
“Just ask her what happened when the guys she hired to kidnap you the last time learned they weren’t getting paid because she didn’t get the money she thought she would.”
I backed up a step but had nowhere to go. I was trapped between his big body and the wall.
No, no, no.
He was wrong. There was no way my mother would’ve done that.
“She wouldn’t,” I whispered, even as I realized that was exactly something Monica Quinn would do.
There was nothing in his expression to say he was lying. Why would he? Why would he tell me something like that when I was trying to solve his problem? He wanted his fee, and my mother needed it to make this go away. Fake kidnapping plus fake ransom equals three million dollars. Easy peasy.
Or maybe not because the glint in his eyes said he knew what he was talking about.
The thought that Monica had hired someone to hold me captive in a dark, dank basement, refusing me everything but the bare basics to survive for two weeks, made my stomach turn. She was capable of plenty, but turning on her own daughter? That was a new low. Had she told Diggy to torment me? Was she the reason a cold chill ran down my spine when I heard a loud noise?
My stomach lurched, but I choked down the bile rising in my throat.
“Take me anyway,” I said, my jaw hardening. “Do whatever you want with me. I can work it off.”
His eyes glittered with amusement, but his expression didn’t change. “Work off three million?”
“What is it you do that’ll earn you three mil?”
I shrugged. I was an artist, and while my paintings were good, I wasn’t Salvador Dali or Claude Monet, and I never would be. I’d sold every piece I had ever created and even had a few commissioned by a local gallery. Of course, if you asked my mother, she would tell you it wasn’t because I had talent—which I did, thank you very much—but because I was her daughter. People wanted a piece of her, and my art was by proxy. But I wasn’t going to devalue myself entirely. I was capable of earning money. I could do what Rhyan was doing upstairs if I had to.
Yeah, sure you can. If you’re so brazen, why does the thought of cleaning up a crime scene send your stomach into an alligator death roll?
I ignored the stupid voice and focused on Rule’s question.
“Whatever you want me to do,” I whispered, refusing to back down. If I did, I would probably fall apart, and while my mother was a good actress, I wasn’t. It was going to get messy, but I was tired of being the fucking pawn on the chessboard, used and discarded for someone else’s gain.
“You’re willing to sell yourself to clear your mother’s debt?”
I held his stare, refusing to acknowledge the butterflies that had erupted in my belly. I wasn’t scared of this man. He wasn’t going to hurt me. He had no reason to.
The question was: would he help?
I saw the moment something clicked for him. “Under one condition.”
“We have to get married.”
Well, the good news was he wasn’t married. That or he didn’t realize bigamy was a crime.
The bad news was he was batshit crazy.
I stared, waiting for the punchline because surely I didn’t hear him correctly. Why in the world would he want me to marry him? I didn’t understand what that would possibly gain either of us.
“That way, you can’t back out.”
Why he thought I might, I didn’t know. Plus, marriage didn’t mean forever and ever, amen. Not in the world I grew up in. Didn’t he know divorces were all the rage in California? For every marriage, weren’t there like five divorces? It seemed like a reasonable guesstimate, at the very least.
“This was my idea,” I countered. “I won’t back out.”
“I know. Because you’ll be my wife.”
“I don’t even know you.” I wondered if he heard the rhythmic thump of my heart. It was so loud, banging against my ear drums with every breath, and it had nothing to do with fear. This man was basically manipulating me the way everyone in my life had, but for some stupid reason, I was okay with it. Something told me I shouldn’t be, but being left behind to deal with a woman who paid someone to kidnap her own daughter was the worst kind of hell I could imagine at the moment.
Kinda sad since … you know, dead bodies and all.
“You’ll get to know me,” Rule said. “We have time. Do we have a deal?”
I pretended I was giving this serious consideration, but there was no way I could. People didn’t do this. They didn’t barter and trade themselves to pay debts or as an excuse to escape a shitty situation. Or maybe they did, and I was as sheltered and clueless as the media portrayed me to be.
“Couldn’t we maybe start slow? As friends?” I asked, still not sure what the marriage angle did for either of us because his excuse was flimsy at best. Divorce was always an option.
“No,” he said firmly, standing tall.
His dark eyes were determined, as was the set of his jaw. I knew this wasn’t a negotiation, and if I didn’t give him the answer he wanted in the next five seconds, he was going to walk out that door and leave me to clean up my mother’s mess and risk beating my mother to a pulp for what she’d done to me. An image of both of us in orange jumpsuits came to mind.
“Fine,” I said because I didn’t look good in orange. And because I could tell he was expecting me to refuse.
I swear his eyes softened, and the hint of a smile pulled at his mouth. “Good girl.”
That alligator death roll my belly had been doing stopped suddenly and reversed, sending my heart rate into hyperdrive. Though manipulative and misplaced, his praise filled my chest with helium and momentarily lifted my feet off the ground. Sad, I know. But I couldn’t remember a time anyone had praised me for anything. Unless you considered my mother telling me she was proud I’d watched my calorie intake while imprisoned in some lunatics basement. Not exactly the same thing.
Before I could ask him what I was supposed to do to prepare for the upcoming nuptials, Rule took my wrist firmly in his hand and led me back to the living room, where my mother was still weeping while she peeked through slitted eyes to see if anyone was watching. Sure enough, as soon as we walked in, the sobs became more intense.
“The fee’s been taken care of,” Rule told her.
My mother sat up, her expression instantly smoothed. “What? How?”
“Your daughter took care of it for you.”
Monica’s eyes widened. “You have money?”
I shook my head. “Not three mil, no. But it’s fine.”
My mother launched to her feet, the skin on her face tightening. “What did you do?”
I thought the question was for me, but her glare was pinned on Rule.
He didn’t answer, something I realized he was ridiculously good at.
“Go upstairs and pack a bag,” he instructed me. “You’re leaving with me.”
“I need more than a bag,” I countered. I had canvases and paints that needed to be packed up. I would rather take those than clothes.
“I’ll send someone for the rest when it’s daylight.”
“What did you do?” my mother shouted more insistently this time.
“Go,” Rule snapped, urging me toward the door.
I stumbled a few steps, but this time, I did as he said. I hurried upstairs to grab clothes, pretending I didn’t hear the raised voices that followed.
It was easier to tell myself that my mother was heartbroken that I was leaving, but I knew Monica Quinn. She didn’t do heartbreak. She didn’t have it in her.